When a family member has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s difficult enough for adults to understand, let alone a child. For a youngster, it can be confusing and scary.
Based on a true account, here’s a story about little Anna who was sad because her grandma doesn’t remember her anymore and how her mother helped her understand. Hopefully, it can help someone you care about as well.
“Anna, it’s time to go see Grandma.” “I don’t want to go,” the little girl answered. She sat in her bedroom with her head in her hands as her eyes welled. “Grandma doesn’t know me anymore. Why doesn’t she like me?”
Anna’s mother sat down on the bed next to the seemingly inconsolable 6-year-old. “It’s not her fault sweetie,” her mother said. “She got sick and has trouble remembering things now.”
“But why me,” the girl sobbed, looking up at her mother, tears pouring down her reddened cheeks. Her mother put an arm around the child, fighting back her own tears. After all, it was her own mother who had the illness. “She doesn’t know me anymore either baby,” she told the girl, brushing the curly brown locks away from her face.
“It’s not fair,” the girl squeaked through her tears. “Why did she have to get sick? Grandpa’s not sick. He remembers me.” “I don’t know why,” said her mother. “I think it’s just how different things happen to different people when we get older.”
Anna looked up, quizzically, wiping tears from her face with her sleeve. “What kinds of things?” “Well, do you remember how your Uncle Jack had trouble hearing you last year until he got his hearing aids?”
“Yes. But now he hears everything. He’s always shushing us.” Her mother chuckled through her tears. “Yes, well, it’s kind of like that. When we get older, some parts of our bodies don’t work as well as they once did. For Uncle Jack, it was his hearing, but for Grandma, it’s her mind. Over time, her thoughts and memories got all scrambled up.”
“Let me try to explain it another way.” Anna’s mother picked up a completed jigsaw puzzle from the night table that the girl had been playing with at bedtime. She held the finished puzzle so the girl could see the picture, a family portrait, with Grandma and Grandpa right up front.
“Last night we took all the pieces of this puzzle and put them in just the right spot to make the picture. Well, the puzzle pieces are like the memories stored your mind.” Suddenly she dumped the puzzle on the bed, and the picture dissolved into a pile of jumbled pieces.
“Just like the puzzle, all the pieces have to fit together just right, or the picture doesn’t make any sense. The thoughts and memories that help Grandma remember people and things are all jumbled up, so to her, the world looks very different now.”
The little girl stared at the mixed-up puzzle quietly. For a long moment, she said nothing. “Can we get her a hearing aid to help put the pieces back,” she asked, hope in her blue eyes.
Her mother held back a laugh while simultaneously wanting to burst into tears. “No sweetie, there’s no way to fix Grandma. All we can do is take care of her and try to help her be happy and comfortable.”
Once again, the girl was silent, then she said, taking her mother’s hand, “I’m sorry your mommy is sick. If you got sick, I’d try to help put your puzzle back together.”
Tears gushed from her mother’s eyes as she saw the compassion in her little girl’s face. “Thank you honey,” she said, trying to wipe the tears, “I know you would.” She smiled and stood, clasping her daughter’s hand. “Ready to go see Grandma now?”
“Yes,” the little girl said. She looked at the bed where the jigsaw pieces had landed. “Can we take the puzzle picture? Maybe if I do it with her, it will help Grandma remember us.” “Yes, honey. That’s a great idea.”
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. Information at www.gerydeer.com.